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Yemen's President Remains in Oman, Departure for US Uncertain

Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks to the press at the presidential palace in Sana'a, January 22, 2012.

Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks to the press at the presidential palace in Sana'a, January 22, 2012.

Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains in the Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman and it is unclear when his planned trip to the United States for medical treatment will take place.

An official at the Yemeni embassy in Washington told VOA Thursday he has no information on when Saleh might arrive. Mohammed Albasha also denied an article in The Wall Street Journal saying the president's family is searching for a plane to fly him to New York.

The article said Saleh’s presidential plane, an aging Boeing 727, is prohibited from landing at U.S. airports. Albasha said President Saleh does have access to a plane that can fly him to the United States. He departed the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, Sunday on a jet for neighboring Oman, where he said he would stop for a brief period before traveling on to New York.

Media reports citing diplomats in Oman and aides to Saleh say he is trying to secure approval from the Omani ruler for permanent exile, but Albasha "strongly" denied the speculation.

A source close to the negotiations that led to Saleh's departure told the French news agency that if Saleh does eventually arrive in the U.S. he will stay until at least February 21, the day presidential elections are scheduled for Yemen. AFP quotes the source as saying Saleh will "not be admitted to a hospital but will see consultants in New York."

The U.S. has said Saleh's request to travel to the United States was approved for the sole purpose of medical treatment, and that his stay would be for a "limited time."

The embattled leader was severely wounded in a bomb attack on his presidential compound last June and spent several months recuperating in Saudi Arabia. He has spoken previously of a desire to seek further treatment in the United States.

In a televised farewell speech just hours before he left Yemen, the outgoing president asked his people to forgive him for any "shortcomings" made during his 33-year autocratic rule. He also vowed to return to the country and continue leading his ruling General People's Congress party.

Yemeni opposition activists have staged a year of mass protests demanding his immediate ouster, inspired by popular uprisings in other parts of the region. Thousands of Yemenis rallied in Sana'a Sunday, calling for Saleh to be put on trial for a violent crackdown in which hundreds of people have been killed.

The anti-Saleh protesters reject granting Saleh full immunity from prosecution. Yemen's parliament approved the immunity last week as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council-backed deal to encourage the president to leave office. Saleh signed the plan last November and agreed to transfer presidential powers to his deputy ahead of the February 21 elections to pick his successor.

Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is the consensus candidate of Yemen's ruling party and parliamentary opposition for that election.

Reuters reported that at least 22 people were killed Thursday in clashes between Shi'ite Muslim rebels and fighters from a Sunni Islamist group in a province under rebel control in the country's rugged north.

A source close to the Houthi rebels told Reuters that Salafist fighters attacked them overnight in Hajja and in the Kataf area of Saada province, a location that has seen intense sectarian fighting in recent months.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.